I assume you’re as hyped up about the new Gorillaz album as I am, right? It’s coming out pretty soon, and it’s titled The Now Now. And while several songs have already been released, I’m just over here still listening to Humanz from a few years ago. So, naturally, I thought I’d do a tarot reading for it.
First, as usual, have my history with the thing.
“The thing” in this case is the Gorillaz themselves. I first saw one of their videos my second year of undergrad, in one of those big bar arcade places like Dave & Busters (but not actually a Dave & Busters). Then I really got into their music overall with what I now know as G-Sides (at the time it was just some music — the 2000s was a piratical time, OK?). I did know the videos were there in part to obscure the band, but I did actually think, for a long time, that there was one band member for each virtual band member. Basically, I thought there was a real person and then the character was a persona. Nooooope.
Of course, I guess we all know now that they’re basically a collective, with Damon Albarn as the guy behind the music and Jamie Hewlett behind the art and character design. Let’s get this show on the road, then!
This album is long, actually. I’m gonna skip the voice tracks and just do the songs. Also, the album has been pretty clearly defined since before launch: Albarn openly said it’s political, and in fact told contributors to imagine a dance party in an apocalyptic world where Trump wins the US election. Then, between recording and launch, uh, Trump won the US election. So I guess we need the album even more than Albarn imagined.
As always, I do not know which card I will draw for each song. I draw the card after the first bit of text I write; when you see the card for the first time, I drew it in the course of my writing.
Ascension (feat. Vince Staples)
The first song comes out swinging, with both the dance party and the political commentary strong. “the sky’s falling baby drop that ass fore it crash.” Possibly one of the most striking lines on the entire album is right at the end of this song:
I’m just playing, baby, this the land of the free
Where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap
Where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me
Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a fucking tree
It’s pretty overt: if you’re not black, America can be a pretty good place. If you are black, you could still be lynched. So we might as well party.
4 of Pentacles
Yuuuup. Security, but at the cost of someone else. The four coins insulates our piggy banker from the world at every point, which is, of course, how he manages to take all that money without caring where it’s going. This card indicates material security, but also that you’re locked into it. You can’t get out — you can’t even see out. In this case, the singer (Vince Staples) is the one locked out by the system, which does not give a flying fuck about him. This song is about reclaiming what little material happiness you can when the system itself is rigged against you.
Strobelite (feat. Peven Everett)
This is the first with a full video, featuring Noodle and 2D dancing in a club of actual human beings. Peven Everett wonders how things will end, with some lyrics that wouldn’t be out of place with dance club music: your dad, your mom, Friday nights.
But think about that line. “Are we obsidian?” Things slide off obsidian, which can be a mirror or a knife. The song begins with pain, not pleasure: this song is digging into that idea of dancing as the world ends. It’s a little more general; we dance so we don’t feel that pain for another few minutes. We escape the pain of the week on Friday night.
Insert joke about the current news cycle here.
This card is all about going places and using the experience of your life in a positive way. The song isn’t suggesting that it’s bad we cover over our pain sometimes. It’s necessary, as unfortunate as the fact is. We yoke sometimes unpleasant sensations into our chariot and use them to drive us forward. And if this is a dance party, what are we seeking? Not just pleasure, but union with others (possibly, but not only, sexual in nature). The heart engages and maybe — maybe — we still can “be as one again” if we keep going.
Saturn Barz (feat. Popcaan)
This is the big deal single from the album, or one of them. It’s the first thing I saw from the album, at least. The video is amazing, a kind of Scooby Doo mystery hybridized with House on the Borderlands. The song jams Popcaan’s reggae down our throats, wondering if we really know the speaker. There are also several mythological references, making me wonder if the question is about knowing the world we live in (well, one of them). The song itself is titled after Saturn, astrological figure of death and dissolution. Apollo’s glory is invoked at once, reminding us of the sun (though it may be indirect, a kind of audio pun).
Albarn’s interjected lyrics bring up debts, holograms, and dancing alone. The song is about isolation, I think, particularly the kind that comes with the ends of things and being understood less well than we would like.
Page of Pentacles
This card indicates a youthful and contemplative figure, seriously considering their coin while pants grow around. Seen positively, the card promises a kind of safe adventure, some motion but with growing and contemplating. Things are starting up, but they’re going to end right where they start. Negatively, though, the figure is alone and has to be alone to get anything done. Saturn may be invoked in the song because the isolation of death and dissolution is totally natural: it has to happen. And we can get pissed about it, and we can sit at night and idly wonder about it, but in the end, we’re getting put in the ground for something new to grow up.
Momentz (feat. De La Soul)
And the next song is all about time, staring and clocks and watches. This song is funny, clever and sharp. It brings up a number of moments in life we shouldn’t forget or ignore. But time keeps passing no matter what, adding pressure to what seems like a fairly simple song. The tempo supports that, along with a steady bassy thump that keeps the time for most of the song.
The song tells us what it’s talking about: “I’m talkin’ about the Kool Klown Klan.” That’s not subtle. But how is the song about that?
Knight of Wands
The knight is always charging forward, and the knight of wands is nearly the fastest and most breakneck. They plunge out into the world, seeking a fire or offering it to others. Here, the singer talks about seeing those moments, seizing them when the chance comes. I have to assume the juxtaposition of that with the KKK reference means to seize life while we get the chance. It’s similar to “Ascension.” We could die, and we could especially die in this country filled with racist assholes and violent madmen. So get out there and spread your fire while you can.
Submission (feat. Danny Brown and Kelela)
This song is between two lovers, one asking the other not to leave, not to withdraw. Things are good when they’re together (definitely physically in this case). The listener should “take a look at the time [they] took,” so that theme is running still. I suppose it’s really saying not to flee something good because other things are bad.
Finally the listener appears, saying they feel like giving up, locked up, in a “world of sin.” Everything is awful, and how could we think of something else?
3 of Cups
The three of cups isn’t specifically a romantic card, but it’s a party card. It’s about sharing between the people involved, blending their emotions together. How could we think of something else? With the power of our loved ones. Isolating ourselves won’t help us and it will hurt those who love us. Better to come together and strengthen one another (we’ll see this more as the album continues).
Charger (feat. Grace Jones)
Grace Jones acts kind of like the matriarch of this album, looming over everything. Here she declares she’s a ghost, haunting everything here. Albarn’s singing is about a race car and wondering what it is, what to do with it, whether it’s even ours. Albarn seems mesmerized, distracted from this voice of doom speaking almost biblically: “I am the ghost / I am the sword.”
7 of Wands
This card is certainly martial enough for the song. It’s about protection, getting a shield strong enough to protect oneself. Given Albarn’s acerbic comments, such as using it “when the flowers have grown,” I feel like the charger is an emblem for that thing we want in the future that we never get around to — and use as a reason to put off other things. We shouldn’t listen to that ridiculous desire, implanted by our consumer culture. Don’t use that antenna, don’t listen to the commercials. Listen to the voice telling you what you should really be doing. Don’t hide behind that shield.
Andromeda (feat. D.R.A.M.)
This is much chiller than what’s come before. It’s still groovy, and it exhorts the lover to accept the message into their heart. The space imagery returns as well — first Saturn, now Andromeda. We’re heading deeper into space, further from Earth. We’re also getting a lot more of Albarn in this section of the album, and I think he’s using 2D as the distracted person who isn’t paying attention to the world around them. He’s jet lagged, a little confused, ignoring everything bad around him.
Recent bits online support this, by the way. 2D seems absolutely to be blissed out on his own ignorance.
7 of Cups
The seven of cups offers dreams, wonderful visions. But they’re probably out of reach, floating out in the clouds instead of close by. Note, too, that they’re not all good. But they are internal, growing up out of ourselves rather than the world itself. This is a perfect card for 2D’s growing distance from reality. It’s one response to the state of things, but it’s not a satisfactory response long-term.
That is the first half! Join us next time for the rest of the album and some more hype!